Shaking up the top line

May 23, 2012, by

During the game on Monday, I got into a discussion with Kevin Baumer (formerly of Blueshirt Bulletin) about the play of Carl Hagelin. The question came up about possibly benching Carl Hagelin when Brandon Dubinsky is ready to return. Kevin was vehemently against it. I on the other hand, was not so against it.

Bear in mind, if this were the regular season, I would have called for a benching a while ago. But it’s not, so things are a bit different.

Hagelin is currently playing top line minutes with the Rangers two most skilled forwards, and ha exactly zero goals to show for it. That’s no goals and just three assists in 15 games so far this postseason. No matter which way you look at this, it’s unacceptable to have a top line player with zero goals in 15 games. At some point, changes need to be made.

What Hagelin does so well for the Rangers is that he forechecks relentlessly, and has done a great job of maintaining puck possession…at least during the regular season. That is not the case so far this postseason.

On Saturday, I listed out the Rangers skaters in regards to QoC, RCorsi, and OZone start %, and while I did not specifically mention Hagelin in the post, his numbers came in on the disappointing end of things. (Please refer to this article and this article for details about advanced metrics.)

Those numbers, when analyzed alone, mean little. When you combine them, you are able to really see how these players do, because you are looking at puck possession metrics (RCorsi) in relation to the quality of competition faced and the time spent in the offensive zone. All three together make an accurate reading of how a player is doing, and that’s why Hagelin’s numbers are so startling.

Hagelin, who has a great RCorsi in the regular season (10.3), is severely struggling in that regard. In fact, it’s one of the worst on the team at -5.3, exactly 15 off from his regular season pace. Couple that with his bottom-three QoC (.012) and over 60% offensive zone starts, and you have a player that is struggling.

For those new to advanced metrics, what Hagelin is in this postseason is a player getting ample offensive chances (offensive zone starts), against competition that is not of elite stature (QoC), and he still can’t seem to maintain possession of the puck (RCorsi). Bring that together with his zero goals and three assists in 15 games, and you have a player that is clearly struggling.

The decision to remove Hagelin from the line is going to be a controversial one. After all, he has had a lot of chemistry with Richards and Gaborik because he does the dirty work in the corners and allows Richards and Gaborik to do their thing. But the results just aren’t there. When the results aren’t there, sometimes change is needed. Perhaps that change is simply swapping Hagelin with Chris Kreider, who is the only Rangers forward to have more than one goal this series.

Categories : Analysis


  1. Matt J says:

    I’d the swap of Kreider for Hagelin, but I fear that Hagelin wouldn’t as effective on that second or third line.

  2. Mark says:

    I might be in the minority on this one, but I think they should promote Callahan to first line wing with Richards and Gaborik. Cally can do the dirty work along th boards, forecheck, and he will get to the front of the net for the rebound goals. Also he has under performed offensviely as well, so hoepfully this could get him going. The top line is going to log a ton of minutes over the next few games, and Hagelin has shown a tendecy for bad penalties when tired.Moving Kreider in my optionion shortens our depth. The only other guy i think that could be moved to the top line is Anisimov, but he dissapears too much. Still think he is a natural fit on the wing with those guys. Hopefully whatever Torts decides works out, because our offense has been dreadful.

    Forget about whose playing the other wing, maybe Gaborik and Richards just start converting some of their shots into goals and let’s beat the Devils. I think we are much more skilled then them, enough with the small chipiness, lets jsut put them away…

    • Walt says:

      You and I were typing at the same time, and I agree, Cally should be moved up.

      • Dave says:

        You can’t have Cally and Gabby on the same line. They play the same position.

        • Walt says:

          I agree, except with the way Torts switches lines, he can put Cally out of position, and can still work. Just food for thought, what he is doing now doesn’t seem to be working against NJ! Lets not forget that he has played Step, Dubi, and AA as wings, when all three are natural centers.

  3. Walt says:

    That’s putting all your eggs into one basket!

    Put Cally back on the first line, and have Hags skate with Step, and Kreider. They will have speed to burn, and give NJ a decision on who to defend against, and open up the second line somewhat. In either case, these changes mean nothing if we let NJ dictate the tone of the game.

    • Dave says:

      See above…Cally and Gabby play the same postion. Can’t have them on the same line.

      • Blueshirt in Paris says:

        And so do Haggs and CK. So not a good idea to have players on both lines playing out of position.

    • Zen says:

      Unfortunately, Cally hasn’t been an egg in the playoffs in terms of scoring, so I’m not sure it really matters. At this point, Kreider is more of a scoring ‘egg’.

      • Walt says:

        The egg I was refering to was Kreider, maybe I wasn’t clear!

      • Walt says:

        This is the fourth attempt to say the egg I was refering to was Kreider, maybe I wasn’t clear. I tried three times to post this remark, and was rejected!

  4. Zen says:

    To me, it would be tough to move Hagelin’s speed out of the lineup, no matter what the metrics say. I would be more inclined to bench Mitchell or Feds before Hagelin… when Dubi and Zuc return.

    • The Suit says:

      Agreed. He’s the only one that doesn’t seemed gassed. I’d consider swapping him and Kreider, but I wouldn’t out right bench him.

  5. AD says:

    Bench Hagelin? Are you kidding? Is he contributing less than Fedotenko, Boyle, Mitchell, Callahan? Really? The entire forward unit is in a slump and Hagelin is at least performing as well as these other guys. This would be a horrible mistake and message to send to the kid, whose effort is 110% each night. And, I might add, Dubinsky has been mediocre ALL YEAR!

  6. Bloomer says:

    I like to see the Pack line back to together when Dubi comes back. And Zukes with Stepan and Kreider.Stepan has get chemistry with them both. Boyle, Ruff, Tank and Prust can provide the 4th line since they are skating in Mud right now.The 1st line stays intact. A balance attack will give them more space.

    • kevshockey says:

      You’re not doing you’re math right. You’ve got too many guys playing on the 4th line. 2 guys came into the lineup 2 guys have to leave the lineup.


  7. Kevin Baumer says:

    In agreement with AD. I won’t deny that Carl is struggling, but it’s difficult to find a forward that isn’t. They’re really fighting it as a collective unit and the fact is that Carl brings some truly unique qualities that have proven effective for generating offense out of nowhere before. The Rangers are having an extremely difficult time pressuring on the forecheck in large part because of Marty’s ability to play the puck. Taking the fastest guy and most effective forechecker out of the equation only makes it easier for Marty and gives him more time. If anything, Carl is the guy most likely to force a terrible Marty turnover, as we saw against the Flyers. And don’t forget about the long alley-oop play the Rangers have executed successfully on several occasions. No guarantee either opportunity will arise, but I’d certainly like to know that there’s a chance of getting a fluke goal or two, and I think Carl may be the best chance of making that happen.
    He sticks out because of the big goose egg in the goal column, but it’s tough to find a forward that has been productive outside of Chris Kreider and Brad Richards. (Marian has numbers, but the consistency has been a major problem.
    Certainly understand that the metrics point to a player that has fallen apart, but really, what forward is forechecking and generating more shots than he’s on for against? Seems wrong to single Carl out just because his play has dipped. He’s not alone.

    • kevshockey says:

      Hagelin has seen plenty of struggles all playoffs. Hasn’t really seemed the same since his suspension to be honest. He showed a lot of improvement and created more in the last 2 games. Benching him now would only hurt the Rangers and his development. He should remain in the lineup.
      I can’t see both Dubi and Zucc jumping into the lineup in a single game. I doubt Torts would want to make that many changes at once. Given the team as it stands now… Rupp and Mitchell probably the first 2 guys to sit. Even though I think Mitchell has played well and Rupp played well last game until he was booted.

  8. scrangersfan says:

    Dave, I agree with most of your posts but you’re stating that we are much better the the devils?
    I couldn’t disagree more.It pains me to say that but the Devils won 10 of the 12 periods the two teams played by a big margin. The only position where we are better is in goal. As I stated previusly,without Lundqvist,The rangers would not had made the playoffs.
    This team must make a number of changes in the off season to make us true contendoes. Yo need people who can score goals on a regular level. We have too many grinders and muckers.

    • wwpd says:

      we have one elite goal scorer and probably five guys who have demonstrated they should be good for somewhere in the 20-29 goal range. the problem is they are not scoring – all at the same time!

      sorry but you can’t have three lines of 30 goal scorers. other hand this is a team that can win most of its games as long as it squeezes out 3 goals a game

  9. TommyT says:

    Personally I don’t think a shake up is needed. The rangers need to get back to playing their game. They need to up the tempo, forecheck hard and pepper marty from all angles, crazy things happen when you put the puck on net. I think this team had a rude awakening last game and will take the next two. As a professional athlete you can allow yourself to get pushed around like that and not come out firing on all systems. I along with Torts will Pray this team snaps out of the funk and puts away the devils in the next two games. that would give them 5 days rest before the finals begin

    • Papa bear says:

      I agree. They need to initiate contact in the offensive zone. They have been much too passive for the majority of this series. Give the Devils defense the same hounding that our D are receiving. When pressured, they will cough it up. Keep Marty away from the dump-ins. He plays like a third defenseman / quarterback on the breakout if you give him the puck. THE DEVILS DEFENSE NEED TO TASTE THE GLASS AND BOARDS MORE THAN THEY HAVE BEEN. Dump it in while everyone is moving forward with speed, not standing still at the blue-line.

  10. Blueshirt in Paris says:

    We should live and die with our youth. They need to get the experience.

    Haggs inst the only one struggling. But the potential for his speed, forecheck and possession is needed.

  11. Leatherneckinlv says:

    I would not swap Hagelin and keep him on the 1st line. Even though that line does not have a right handed forward. However Callahan would be the best player for the swap. I would like to see Dubi centering a line of Stepan and Kreider. Callahan playing with Boyle and Prust/Mitchell would then give us 3 solid lines.
    The problem has been lack of scoring from Cally, Richy, Gabby, Anisimov and Hagelin. All we need is 2 of these players to get going and the problems will be solved. And honestly I think they will all get going and create superb chances and a few goals for the remainder of the playoffs. They all must realize they are only 6 wins away from the Cup. The character of this team will shine once again. Let’s go Rangers

  12. Mikeyyy says:

    Step away from the ledge….it’s tied 2-2. This is our mo….wear them down with 7 games….I wonder if Matteau is still playing…

  13. Scully says:

    I think like Tommy T was saying it’s time the Rangers get back to playing their game and push push push. They’re too in love with sitting back and playing a 5 man goalie unit in the defensive zone. In fact, their defensive zone coverage has been absolutely horrible in the playoffs and especially against the Devils (who are a better team than both the Senators and Capitals and it’s showing). Once you get in behind the Devils forecheck their defense is spotty at best and Brodeur has given up a soft goal in every game so far. They need to push the tempo and not be content sitting back on their heels and let Lundqvist bail them out of every situation. They last 2 games have been abysmal. They need to come out flying and really stick it to the Devils and score the first goal.

    Also Dave I know Gaborik and Callahan play the same position in theory, but I have no problem switching Callahan to his other side wing (nor do I think Callahan would have a problem with it). I love the Idea of Kreider and Hagelin on the same line. The jump in Kreider’s game might jump start Hagelin’s. Plus, that’s some serious zip on that line. I would even move Boyle up and let him bang for the two speedsters. Early in the season when they threw Hagelin – Boyle – Mitchell together it was effective:

    Gaborik – Richards – Callahan
    Kreider – Boyle – Hagelin
    Rupp – Anisimov – Stepan
    Fedotenko – Mitchell – Prust

    This could work… perhaps not, but I don’t HATE these lines.

  14. Jack says:

    This could be more drastic of a change than they really need but it worked at times in the regular season and when the top 6 aren’t scoring…why not?

    Gaborik – Stepan – Anisimov (GAS line’s back)
    Kreider – Richards – Hagelin (speed)
    Callahan – Boyle – Dubinsky (America)
    Prust – Mitchell – Rupp/Fedotenko

    Not sure who I wanna see replaced by Dubi…I think Mitchell had a strong game last game and he is important for faceoffs, no one else on that fourth line can play center. Rupp had a good game last game but he is so slow, but his playoff experience and veteran presence is important so he stays I think…same goes for Fedotenko though and he had a goal last game. You can’t keep Prust out again because we clearly missed him last game. I think the choice is Mitchell, but then these lines may not work out as well as I had hoped because the fourth line won’t have a centerman…maybe move Dubinsky to center on the third line with a guy like Feds and then have Boyle center rupp and prust on the fourth

    • sean says:

      I actually love these lines but Rupp should be out. He stinks

      • Scully says:

        Everyone thinks Rupp stinks. He does not. He actually had a very solid game 4, might have been the best Ranger forechecker. He drew a penalty and so what he got 14 minutes of penalty minutes, someone needed to show some heart and send a message to the Devils. The Rangers haven’t had nearly enough sandpaper in their game as a collective unit this series. Every time a Devil touches a puck they should be punished with good hard checking. It will cause turnovers and make the Devils more tentative, especially Kovalchuk.

    • VinceR says:

      Looks like it’s Dubi in for Mitch.

      • sean says:

        why does torts have such a hard on for Rupp? Mitch brings so much more to the table than Rupp. I skate better than Rupp and im older than him!

        • VinceR says:

          Ha, so many opinions re: that 4th line (Mitch/Dubi/Rupp/Feds), guess he can’t satisfy all of us. 🙂

          I don’t mind Rupper and the veteran qualities he brings, and I don’t think he’s as bad a skater as people say. I’ve liked his forechecking.

          Another angle is that the Devs might be gunning for him after the 3rd period antics and could draw some dumb penalties or pay him too much attention.

    • Tim B says:

      No offense but i believe it was Anisimov-Stepan-Gaborik

  15. Heart says:

    Kreider – Richards – Callahan
    Anisimov – Stepan – Gaborik
    Dubinsky – Boyle – Prust
    Rupp – Mitchell – Fedotenko

  16. Ray says:

    Bench Gaborik. Not only is he NOT contributing on the scoreboard, but he is also the one the turns the puck over more than anyone else. He cant skate with the puck. It seems the Devils just LOOK at him and there is a turnover. We all know he does nothing against the boards. His job is mainly to get in a open spot and fire. He cant even do that. Hags on the other hand is relentless on the forecheck. He does what Dubi USED to do a year ago with more speed. He is the only one that does not seem gassed yet.

  17. Chris F says:



    Your post has made its way into the daily Puck Daddy Headlines.

  18. Tom says:

    Not to disagree with overall point, but Hagelin only played 15 playoff games (3 games suspended).